Jewish World Review May 1, 2003 /29 Nissan, 5763

Zev Chafets

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U.S. security, not economy, is key for prez | On Monday, President Bush visited Dearborn, Mich., which is as close as you can get to the Middle East without a passport. There, he promised a crowd of cheering Arab-Americans: "Iraq will be democratic."

Bush's trip had a dual purpose: to support the small-D democrats of Iraq and smite the big-D Democrats of Michigan. Bush lost there in 2000, but a recent poll shows two-thirds of Michigan voters approve of the job he is doing.

If the 2004 election were held tomorrow, the President would turn practically the entire electoral map of America to solid GOP red. In New York, for example, which hasn't voted for a Republican since 1984, a recent Quinnipiac survey puts Bush ahead of every announced Democratic contender. And in California, where Bush lost by 12 points, a statewide Field Poll has him beating a generic Democratic opponent 45% to 40%.

Bush's father held a big lead after his victory in the first Gulf War and squandered it by ignoring the economy. The conventional wisdom, which the White House is doing nothing to shoot down - is that Bush can win only by concentrating on domestic issues, thereby sending the country an "I care" message.

This strikes me as wrong, for at least three reasons, and a bit tricky, too.

First, this Bush is a much better campaigner (and a much better President) than his father. He doesn't need to broadcast an interest in the economy because he doesn't radiate patrician detachment from the daily lives of his subjects. Bush the First famously didn't know the price of a loaf of bread. W not only knows how much bread costs, he knows the price of Wonder Bread.

Second, the President is lucky in his opponents. Of the nine announced Democratic candidates, four - the Rev. Al Sharpton, former Illinois Sen. Carol Moseley Braun, Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean - are walking campaign ads against letting a Democrat anywhere near t he Oval Office. Sen. Bob Graham of Florida is recovering from open-heart surgery. Of the others - Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina and Rep. Dick Gephardt of Missouri - none makes a convincing economic savior. Nor is it likely that Bush will have to contend with a Ross Perot-style domestic-issue spoiler.

Finally, and most importantly, the world is far different than it was in 1992. The major Democratic candidates all voted for the war in Iraq (Kerry grudgingly), but none can match Bush's prestige and authority on matters of national security. That's why the President's main electoral challenge is to keep the country focused on the dangers of a hostile world.

Obviously, that doesn't mean ignoring domestic issues. In Dearborn, the President met with the heads of Ford, GM and DaimlerChrysler to talk jobs and taxes. But the atmospherics of the trip suggested that, in a dangerous world, America needs a proven war leader.

Lately, the White House has been spinning a 2004 scenario in which the President stays above politics until the Republican convention in September, then swings into a 60-day, $200 million media blitz. But I suspect - especially after Dearborn - that this is disinformation. The real Bush campaign is already underway, not a two-month air war but a sustained political ground campaign aimed at keeping the country focused less on the discontents of the middle class than on the perils of the Middle East.

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JWR contributor Zev Chafets is a columnist for The New York Daily News. Comment by clicking here.

04/28/03: Real artists, not airheads
04/22/03: Sealed With a Kiss
04/14/03: Don't believe the cheers
04/03/03: Iraq's only the start --- Syria & Iran are next
04/01/03: War's happy troubadours
03/27/03: What's not going on is the key in this war
03/20/03: The big question: Can Arabs handle liberty?
03/17/03: In war, like in baseball, the idea is to make the other guy cry --- now, let's go get 'em!
03/13/03: Jewish plot? This pol has gone punchy
03/11/03: Prez is ready to finish off the Security Council, too
03/04/03: Those human shields need some star power
02/28/03: How prez could further racial pluralism but end affirnative action
02/24/03: Prof's arrest will test Arab Americans' loyalty
02/11/03: Rhyme, but no reason
02/04/03: McGovern's children
01/23/03: A peace movement that's going nowhere
01/13/03: No time for experts
01/07/03: Senator from Mayberry shouldn't alarm prez
12/31/02: Dem Dummies
12/19/02: Saudis still play Santa to Arafat
12/13/02: Lott has to be dumped to save W's authority
12/05/02: Kissinger's Saudi pals litter 9/11 money trail
11/25/02: Sharon looks like a winner
11/18/02: It's the war, stupid
11/14/02: The Dems don't have a prayer
11/07/02: Watch for Dubya to give Arik political hug
10/31/02: Sharpton the patriot
10/22/02: Rabin, gone but not missed
10/17/02: Israelis bracing for US' punch at Iraq
10/14/02: Geriatric war resisters
09/27/02: Al Gore: The Lost Boy of American politics
09/05/02: The intifadeh's over, and the Israelis won
08/29/02: At the world summit, just anger & hypocrisy
08/21/02: No time for weak knees on Iraq
08/16/02: A pro-Arab pol may get the beating she deserves
08/13/02: Fight it out now
08/02/02: Memo to The Council on Foreign Relations: U.S. values won't sell in Arab world
07/31/02: Israel's nutty neighbors

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